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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is a "Cape red"? I often see it on wine labels from South Africa.

—Calide G., Brazil

Dear Calide,

“Cape” is a geographical term that is often applied to wine. A cape is a large piece of land that sticks out into the sea from the coast. If you look at South Africa on a map, you’ll notice a lot of references to capes, as that tip of the continent juts into the water at different angles. There’s a Cape Peninsula, Cape of Good Hope, a Western Cape and an Eastern Cape. The Western Cape even has its own winemaking district called the Cape Winelands.

South Africa’s vineyards spread out from the regional center of Cape Town (another cape!). The cape is a distinctive point of pride for South African vintners. As you might imagine, the two oceans that the country meets—the Atlantic and the Indian—have a big influence the climate there. There’s even a strong wind current in the region known as (what else) the “Cape Doctor,” which can damage grapes, but also limits the risk of mildew and fungus. "Cape reds" are typically South African red wines made from a blend of some of the country's most prominent red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz), Pinotage and Merlot. You can learn more about the wines of South Africa in senior editor James Molesworh's cover story, "South Africa: An Emerging Giant," and his "ABCs of South African Wine," in the July 31, 2013, issue of Wine Spectator.

—Dr. Vinny

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